A VISIT TO LOTUS COMPONENTS LIMITED

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RACING CARS ARE BIG BUSINESS

THERE WAS a time when anyone who wanted to buy a racing car went along to see a designer laid down the general principles of the car he wanted, paid over a large sum of money, and his car (if he was lucky) was delivered to him in due course.

As in so many other aspects of racing, things are different now and buying a racing car is very little more complicated than buying a Cortina, Hunter or Maxi. The showroom, be it Mallory Park or the Nürburgring, is a bit more exciting: you judge for yourself what you consider to be the best design, ring up the factory and place your order. You specify what engine and tyres you want, and as often as not the car is ready to be collected within a matter of a few weeks. The comparison doesn’t stop there, for there is after-sales service to be considered, and most factories now supply a “setting-up” sheet which guides you with the suspension adjustments, etc.

I suppose that to a certain extent the old mystery and thrills of racing are on the wane, for anyone with the right amount of money can join in. Democratisation means that the butcher, baker or candlestick maker can load up his trailer with his “shop-bought” racing car and disappear in the direction of Brands Hatch or Thruxton for a day on the circuit. But it also means that racing is more competitive, it ensures that Britain has a constant supply of well-trained young drivers and that the circuits make money for their owners.

Colin Chapman has supplied the vehicles for club drivers to use ever since the Lotus 6 was announced and today there is a separate Lotus company to continue in the tradition. It is called Lotus Components and it has its own factory, which is part of the huge new complex which houses Lotus Cars and Team Lotus. The first duty of its thrusting 31-year-old Managing Director Mike Warner is to make a profit, and Warner in turn is able to keep down costs because he is a properly trained production engineer.

The mainstay of Components, as the division is always referred to, is the Formula Ford Lotus 61. These cars are now produced on a flow-line, just like a Mini or Cortina, which has a capacity of a dozen each week. There was a certain over-production in 1969, the result of over-optimism about American sales, but the 61S which have been awaiting customers were all recently returned to the workshop to be brought up to 61M specification, which entails lopping about 4 in. out of the top wedge-section body, repositioning and beefing up one or two components and increasing fuel capacity. The revised car has done particularly well in the Brazilian Formula Ford Torneio and although basically there is not much to distinguish its chassis from that of a Lotus of 1962 it is undoubtedly competitive in this field of racing.

For Formula Three the type 59 has survived a difficult early period of development and become one of the very fastest cars in this competitive category, while its very similar brother, the Formula Two 59B, proved an instant winner in Rindt’s hands last year at Thruxton.

It is freely admitted by Warner that the image of Lotus’ production racing cars became more than a little tarnished in the course of the years from 1964-1968. At a period when Jim Clark was winning World Championships and the name of Lotus was standing on the pedestal with him, sales of Lotus racing cars were actually ailing. The problem was that the cars simply weren’t competitive with comparative newcomers like Brabham and the spares situation was enough to drive racing people mad with frustration.

Getting the awareness and goodwill of the racing fraternity back to Lotus proved difficult. To start with it was decided to make a heavy investment in racing, with Miles and Oliver in Type 47s for sports-car racing, plus Oliver and later Miles in Lotus 41s for Formula Three. But there always seemed to be a suspicion that the cars supplied to the works were a bit better than those used by customers. Formula Ford and a massive sales campaign eventually saved the day.

It was eventually decided to cut down on the expensive racing commitments. Development at Formula Three level was carried out on the cars supplied to Gold Leaf Team Lotus, which is not part of the Lotus Group now that the latter is a public company, although the two naturally have very close links.

Chapman has never interfered with the day-to-day running of his company’s individual parts: apart from anything else, the Lotus empire is now far too big for one man to control. Mike Warner is typical of the new breed of young professional men who have taken over from the traditional greasy-overalled genius in a one-horse garage who has plenty of good ideas but not enough capital to put them into practice. A Lotus employee for ten years (with one short break), Warner briefly raced a 750 Special which he raced himself. Admitting that he felt that he would never make the grade as a driver, he moved to Lotus, becoming a mechanic and ultimately in charge of the Lotus-Cortina project before it was taken over entirely by Ford. He is very conscious that he represents the Lotus image to customers and is always approachable, for instance, on the telephone. Because he sells racing cars, he does not spend long hours testing, away from all possible contact, and is invariably there when the telephone rings. However, he did find time to show me round the Components workshop, where there were several exciting cars being built.

Among them were several Lotus 70s for Formula A/5000. The 70 is the first Components-built Lotus since the 35 to use a monocoque chassis, the designer in this case being an ex-Team man, Martin Waide. It was decided that the Lotus image had sagged particularly badly in the United States, so when the final round of the Sports Car Club of America’s 1969 Formula A Championship fell due to be run at Sebring shortly after Christmas, Warner and Waide went out to Florida to look after the car, which was entrusted to Mario Andretti for the occasion. It turned out to be the last time he drove a Lotus, but he put the car on the front row of the grid and held the lead for a short time before the 5-litre pushrod Ford engine blew up. The failure of the engine was overlooked by many potential customers who were otherwise impressed by the car’s performance and Warner came back to the Wymondham Lotus headquarters with orders for five 70s in his pocket.

Construction of the 70 is far more economical than any previous monocoque Lotus, and there is emphasis on ease of repair. As a Production Engineer, nothing offends Warner more than the sight of a man cutting out parts for monocoques by ones and twos. The Lotus 70 is being built in batches (the first order is for 10) and there are templates for cutting several pieces at a time. Although the engine is a semi-stressed part of the chassis, the basic “tub” design, in six parts, is very straightforward. Three ex-Team employees (the withdrawal from Indianapolis racing caused a major cut-back in Team activities) are employed on monocoque production and they can turn out one car every ten days. Actual assembly takes between 120 and 130 hours, which is a vast saving, for instance, on the time required to build a Formula One 49.

Formula Three chassis are built up on a jig manufactured by Lotus. During our visit, we saw the jig being altered to accommodate one or two minor alterations for the 1970 version before being returned to Arch Motors, which makes frames for Lotus after the first few have been made at Wymondham (for “Security” purposes). The Type 59 is made almost entirely of square drawn section tubing. This has no inherent value of its own other than the case with which joints can be cut and mitred. The Formula Fords are Still in round-section tube, a legacy of the design from several years ago: these, too, are made by Arch Motors; the specialists in chassis for Formula Ford and Three

The New Lotus Seven Sports Car

The most interesting Components project at present is the Lotus 7, Series 4, several of which were in the course of construction to be ready in time for last month’s announcement. The old 7 had simply become far too expensive to manufacture: there were too many tubes and a lot of unnecessary aluminium panelling. In fact, the 7 was costing as much to make as a high performance racing model. Warner believed passionately that there was still a market for a car in the Lotus 7 idiom and despite a certain amount of disagreement from the top, he got the go-ahead to create a replacement which retained the character of its predecessor as well as upholding the Lotus tradition of good handling. The result is an amusing exercise which will probably be taken very seriously by a large number of young people who are looking for a car which is cheap, light and different. The styling, such as it is, is entirely in the 7 tradition and there is the bonus of increased weather protection and a larger boot space. The basis of the car is a pair of double ladder-section side members joined together by fabricated bulkheads, notably at the instrument panel. Reinforcement down the sides is by steel sheet and the bodywork is entirely in glass-fibre. Lotus 7 owners will not be sorry to learn that the footwell and sides of the passenger’s compartment are of one-piece “bathtub “type which guarantees freedom from draughts in the nether regions, although a baler will probably be required on rainy days. Nevertheless, weather protection is improved: sliding side-screens become a feature of the 7 for the first time ever. The bonnet folds forward in one piece and there are flared wings of the type which first became popular on the Lotus Super 7. There is a considerable weight saving, although rear suspension continues to be by rigid axle (Escort) and coil springs. Front suspension utilises Europa wishbones and a prototype car has survived a hammering on the pavé section at MIRA.

Although there is a new one-off Lotus 7 being successfully raced in Clubman’s Formula events at the present time, customers will be offered a racing version of the 7 S4, probably with a de Dion rear suspension, and this will be reasonably priced at round £650. Warner feels that Clubman’s racing is still worthwhile, despite the introduction of such expensive new forms of club racing as the Formula F100 two-seater Formula Ford.

Although the major part of Lotus’ income will continue to come from the Elans and Europas which surround the Wymondham factory in such colourful profusion, it is appropriate that Lotus Components continues to supply the young man with a real wind-in-the-face motor car at a reasonable price. With such a full range of racing cars—and racing engines too nowadays—available, Lotus Components is assuredly the most professional of all the racing car companies. And its products are once again in a position to give the customer what he wants: a competitive car with spares available at short notice, which is capable of winning races.—M. G. D.